Farewell Kuring-gai

It might be closing, but Kuring-gai has changed UTS forever

Kuring-gai campusLocated on a 92-acre site in Lindfield, 13 kilometres north of Sydney, UTS’s  Kuring-gai Campus is an iconic structure surrounded by verdant bushland. Over the past 25 years, more than 40,000 UTS graduates have journeyed through its trademark lime green halls, but December 2015 will mark the beginning of a new chapter when the site’s ownership reverts back to the NSW Department of Education.

It is by no means an end, however, as all staff and students will be joining their friends and colleagues at the UTS City Campus in Ultimo. Likewise, all teaching and learning activities will be transferred from Kuring-gai to the City Campus as part of a unified and revitalised,
state-of-the-art urban campus.

A Community Like No Other

Originally a rifle range purchased from the NSW Department of Defence, the Kuring-gai site is unlike any other university campus in Australia. The sprawling concrete structure, nestled in the seclusion of the Lane Cove National Park, was as much an educational institution as it was a home away from home to both students and staff; its privacy and unique collection of gathering spaces nurtured a sense of warmth and community spirit. Its defining feature, as any alumni from Kuring-gai will attest, is its green carpet.

Emeritus Professor David Barker – who was UTS Dean of Law from 1997-2004 – recalls his initial observations: “The first time I walked into the Kuring-gai Campus building in March 1989, I noticed the green carpet, something that I subsequently discovered was synonymous with Kuring-gai,” he says.

Dr Jonathan Tyler, senior lecturer and Deputy Head, School of Accounting, who joined the Kuring-gai campus in 1985, also noted the equally prevalent bright fuchsia handrails:

“The campus was really caught in a time warp and was the pinnacle of what was en vogue in the 1970s,” he says. “We also had the ‘Passion Pit’, a sunken lounge room, with benches built right into the wall, which was a favourite meeting place for staff and students for tutorials.”

Barbecues for staff and students were a regular fixture, as were lunchtime tennis matches and various other social events. 

“I was always impressed by how they brought people from disparate parts of the organisation together,” says Former UTS Vice-Chancellor Professor Tony Blake. “There was just a warm sense of common purpose.”

It’s a view shared by nursing lecturer, Marika Jenkins, who believes “With just one big building, it is so compact that you get to know people really well.” She adds, “You make friendships with people because you see them all the time, passing them in the corridor and the stairs if you are going to classes or the gym.”

Jenkins, who studied at Kuring-gai, loved the intimacy of the studying environment. “We had one mental health nursing class held out on the lawn and we all sat around in a big circle.”

Partnering With UTS

Prior to 1990, the Kuring-gai campus was independently operated as the Kuring-gai College of Advanced Education (KCAE).

The college began expanding its scope in 1977 by affiliating with the College of Law at St Leonard’s, offering practical legal training. During the 1980s, it grew with the establishment of Business and Nursing departments.

In 1987, the Hawke Labor government began implementing the Dawkins education reforms and consolidating educational institutions. Professor Blake was appointed as KCAE’s principal, having previously served as the Deputy Principal at the Sydney College of Advanced Education. One of his goals was to find a suitable institution for Kuring-gai to partner with.

Impressed by the esprit de corps at KCAE, Professor Blake approached different universities over the next 18 months, including UNSW, Macquarie, the University of Sydney and finally a young University of Technology Sydney with a view to amalgamation.

Dr Ken Doyle, who lectured at KCAE during that time and is now President of the Kuring-gai Staff Network, describes the negotiations as “a frenzied dance; partners, clasping and disengaging and clasping elsewhere lest they be left neglected or passed into oblivion”.

KCAE ultimately chose UTS. It was the only university that guaranteed it would honour KCAE’s criteria for amalgamation: a commonality of mission and management style and an opportunity to participate in equitable decision-making.

After Amalgamation

The amalgamation between UTS and KCAE took place on 1 January 1990, and Professor Blake was appointed the campus’ first Deputy Vice-Chancellor. The Business, Nursing and Teacher Education departments were placed under their respective faculties at the city campus.

“UTS was prepared to be very accommodating, and Kuring-gai appreciated that very much,” says Professor Blake. “There was no sign of any sort of paternalistic attitude. I think it gave Kuring-gai academics a much more fertile intellectual environment in which to flourish.” 

“UTS was prepared to be very accommodating ... there was no sign of any sort of paternalistic attitude. I think it gave Kuring-gai academics a much more fertile intellectual environment in which to flourish.” 

Beyond the practical exchange of staff and resources, however, the Kuring-gai campus had an unexpected but unmistakeable impact on the grim, concrete halls of UTS’s city campus. The community spirit that so impressed Professor Blake when he was first appointed the principal of Kuring-gai was infectious and spread throughout the city campus. Art, sculptures and colour were introduced. With time, the campus that is said to have once been compared to a public railway station by the Duke of Edinburgh was transformed into the vibrant city campus we have today. 

Professor Blake went on to be elected UTS’s second Vice-Chancellor in 1996 – a position he held until his retirement in 2002.

Life at Kuring-gai, meanwhile, continued apace. Dr Tyler observed that while the demographics between campuses were much the same, it was a time of social change. “We had a wonderful affirmative action program, encouraging women who maybe hadn’t done their HSC, but had other valuable experience, to come and study with us,” he says. “These women had lots of motivation, were more responsible and had totally different expectations. They were older than many of the lecturers.”

There were also the part time, evening students who came to Kuring-gai as mature age learners, many of them holding down full-time jobs. Todd Greenberg, who is now the Australian Rugby League’s Head of Football, was among the inaugural intake for the Masters of Sports Management when he started attending lectures in 1994.

“I really enjoyed coming to the campus after work because it was in such beautiful grounds,” says Greenberg, who was then working in his first job at Cricket Australia and continued evening classes until graduating in 1997. “I met some fantastic people, who were similar to me and have gone on to have careers in the Olympics, other sports or started their own businesses. And those friendships I still have today, as well as industry contacts that have continued over 20 years.”

Among the Kuring-gai campus’ most memorable staff and students is Paddy Parkhill, who headed campus security for most of the last 25 years. Parkhill was particularly revered for saving the main Kuring-gai building from the 1993 fires that raged in the surrounding bushland.

“When one looks back at the melting lamp-posts and the cracked glass windows as the only outcome, we could truly appreciate the fact that Paddy epitomised the Kuring-gai spirit in putting his life on the line to save the campus,” Professor Barker says.

The Future for Kuring-gai

UTS is timetabled to formally vacate the Kuring-gai campus by the 20 December 2015. The NSW Department of Education plans to renovate the campus and reopen it in 2017 as a state-of-the art “education village” for pre-schoolers to year 12 students. The campus will reportedly incorporate small schools under one umbrella, giving children the opportunity to learn by stage not age.

Timeline

  • 1946: Balmain Teachers College opens
  • 1971: Balmain Teachers College is renamed the William Balmain Teachers’ College and relocates to the Lindfield site (Kuring-gai Campus)
  • 1974: William Balmain renamed Kuring-gai College of Advanced Education (KCAE)
  • 1977: KCAE affiliates with the College of Law
  • 1978: Building architect David Don Turner awarded the Sir John Sulman medal from the NSW chapter of the Australian Institute of Architects. It becomes known as one of Australia’s standout examples of post-war brutalist architecture
  • 1984: Kuring-gai School of Nursing opens
  • 1988: UTS is established
  • 1990: UTS amalgamates with KCAE
  • 1991: Kuring-gai campus’ Department of Law switches from association with Business to the new Faculty of Law and Legal Practice
  • 1993: A major bushfire leaves the Kuring-gai campus miraculously unscathed
  • 2015: Ownership of the Kuring-gai Campus reverts to the NSW Government in exchange for an expanded footprint for UTS’s city campus

Story by Melinda Ham
Photography by Kevin Cheung